When the COVID-19 pandemic first started, many major studios suspended production of their upcoming projects. That meant that most of them were primed to lose millions of dollars from pre-paid contracts, rented empty sets, and delayed release dates. Afraid of falling into that trap from the prolonged inactivity, the studios began to slowly (and carefully) return to work to finish the films that fans had been anticipating.
Then the pandemic hit again and movie theaters were forced to limit their capacity in accordance with CDC guidelines, which prompted a dramatic decrease in audience attendance. The unfortunate situation eventually forced studios to reschedule their films’ release dates and try an alternate approach in distributing their content. Thus, a new age of streaming was born, where newly released movies could be seen by audiences from the comfort of their own homes and for a reasonable price.
Thanks to that, 2021 has been jam-packed with dozens of great action movies that have done extremely well with audiences both in and out of the box office. Here’s a look back at some of the ones that gave us wonderful breaks from pandemic fever this year.
One of the better action bloodfests this year was Netflix original Gunpowder Milkshake, a film thoroughly steeped in violence. It revolves around Sam (Guardians of the Galaxy star Karen Gillan), a girl who gets abandoned by her elite assassin mother (Lena Headey) and is then raised by a ruthless crime syndicate known as the Firm. 15 years later, Sam has followed in her mother’s footsteps to become a fierce hit-woman, but when a high-risk job goes awry, Sam must choose between serving the Firm and protecting the life of an innocent eight-year-old girl named Emily. With the Firm hot on their heels, Sam’s only chance for survival lies with her mother’s former associates, the Librarians, a lethal band of hit women charged with dispensing weapons to Firm employees. Together with the Librarians, Sam takes the fight to her former employers as she wrestles with her own moral compass.
Army of the Dead
Another Netflix original, Army of The Dead reunited director Zack Snyder with his zombie roots and gave audiences another look at the Army of the Dead universe. Following a zombie outbreak that has left Las Vegas in ruins and walled off from the rest of the world, former zombie war hero Scott Ward (Dave Bautista) is approached by casino boss Bly Tanaka with a grand proposition: break into the zombie-infested quarantine zone to retrieve $200 million sitting in a vault underneath the city. The catch? Ward has to do it within 32 hours before the entire city is nuked by the American government. Ward, of course, accepts the job and assembles a ragtag team of experts to help him pull off the heist. But with a ticking clock, an almost impenetrable vault, and a horde of alpha zombies closing in, there’s no guarantee that everyone will survive.
One of the more interesting and unique Netflix originals to premiere this year, Space Sweepers is an action-packed sci-fi saga that received rave reviews for its thoroughly detailed and astonishing visuals as well as its compelling storyline and memorable character development. The film centers around the crew of the Spaceship Victory after they snatch a crashed space shuttle and find a young girl inside only to find out that the girl is a human-like robot wanted by the UTS Space Guards. The reason? The robot has a hair trigger self-destruct sequence capable of destroying a vast amount of space, essentially making her a walking, talking bomb. Faced with a compromising situation, the crew decides to try ransoming the girl off to a mysterious party. However, things don’t necessarily go as planned…
Zack Snyder’s Justice League
Who said that Justice League couldn’t get better the second time around? Zack Snyder’s complete version of the 2018 film streamed exclusively on HBO Max and the four-hour feature is truly a more fleshed-out version of its predecessor. With more action and grittier storytelling that adds additional depth to the characters and the film’s overall story, Zack Snyder’s Justice League has made an impressive comeback from its first theatrical run to become one of the best action movies released in 2021.
Godzilla vs. Kong
One of the first HBO movies to be released in theaters and also on HBO Max was Godzilla vs. Kong, the Titan slugfest that audiences had anticipated for years. Although the storyline and character development were almost non-existent, the film did a great job of delivering a no-holds-barred battle between two of the most iconic monsters in cinematic history. The film focuses more on Kong as he and his protectors undertake a perilous journey to find his true home, but they unexpectedly find themselves in the path of an enraged Godzilla during his cross-country trek of destruction. Unaware of the instigating forces aiming to tap into the power of the Titans, the two eventually end up facing off in an epic clash that is only a sign of things to come in the Monsterverse saga.
The truth is, nobody saw Nobody coming. The film was suddenly available to stream and was surprisingly good. Its humor and fast-paced storytelling is enough to keep any fan glued to their living room couch. The film follows Hutch Mansell (Bob Odenkirk), an underestimated, overlooked husband and father who constantly takes crap from people and never pushes back. When crooks break into his suburban home one night, Hutch declines to defend himself or his family hoping to prevent serious violence. Unfortunately, his good intentions backfire when his teenage son Blake (Gage Munroe) and his wife Becca (Connie Nielsen) began to pull further away from him in disappointment. The stress of the incident inadvertently strikes a match to Hutch’s long-simmering rage and triggers dormant instincts that bring dark secrets and lethal skills to the surface. On a brutal path of fists and gunfire, Hutch must eventually save his family from a dangerous organization and guarantee that he will never be underestimated again.
The Suicide Squad
Thanks to the ongoing pandemic, DC’s next installment about the world’s most dysfunctional team of villains didn’t do as well at the box office as it did on HBO Max. However, James Gunn’s take on the bad guy ensemble is actually a pretty decent action movie well-rounded with humor and character development. Once again, the plot revisits Belle Reve Prison, where all of the worst supervillains are kept, and introduces us to a new team of crazies hoping to get time commuted on their sentences in exchange for joining the super-secret and often super-shady Task Force X. This time, the newest assembly of convicts include Bloodsport (Idris Elba), Ratcatcher 2 (Daniela Melchior), Savant (Michael Rooker), King Shark (Sylvester Stallone), Peacemaker (John Cena), Captain Boomerang (Jai Courtney), Blackguard (Pete Davidson), Polka Dot Man (David Dastmalchian), and Harley Quinn (Margot Robbie). Faced with the task of finding and destroying a secret weapon on the military-controlled island of Corto Maltese, this new squad is either going to get the job done or get themselves killed trying.
A long-overdue standalone film, Black Widow is a solid action piece that stays true to the MCU formula of providing context to the many moving parts of the overall MCU while revealing the backstory of one of its most mysterious characters. Set between the events of Captain America: Civil War and Avengers: Infinity War, Black Widow takes audiences on a journey into Natasha Romanoff’s origins as she confronts a dangerous conspiracy tied to her past. Now pursued by the ghosts of her former life, Natasha must deal with her life as a spy and the broken relationships she left behind long before she became an Avenger.
One of the more underrated action films of 2021, The Protege is a darker nod to Netflix’s Gunpowder Milkshake. Full of action and suspense, it’s a hard-hitting yet stylish assassin-themed film that will keep you engaged from beginning to end. The film centers on Anna (Maggie Q), a woman considered to be the world’s most skilled contract killer. After being rescued as a child by the legendary assassin Moody (Samuel L. Jackson), Anna is raised by the veteran contract killer and joins her surrogate father in the business. But when Moody is killed, Anna vows to take revenge, and her journey to find her father’s killer gets her entangled with an enigmatic assassin (Michael Keaton) who eventually leads her to a confrontation that will force her to face the consequences of her profession.
This Hulu original is surprisingly one of the better action movies of 2021. With a unique plot and crazy action, Boss Level is actually an amazing film that doesn’t get enough credit. Trapped in a time loop that consistently repeats the day of his murder, former Special Forces agent Roy Pulver (Frank Grillo) uncovers clues about a secret government project that could explain the mystery behind his untimely death. In a race against the clock, Pulver must hunt down the head of a powerful government program, Colonel Ventor (Mel Gibson) all while outrunning skilled ruthless assassins determined to keep him from the truth. Hoping to break out of the loop and save his family, Pulver uses every last ounce of his skill and strength so he can once again live for tomorrow.